Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sticks and Stones

One of the perennial issues kicked up in the discussion of Jon Chait's TNR cover article on the netroots was the abusive language frequently encountered in blogs and particularly in comment threads. To summarize a whole lot of posts by a whole lot of people, the theory among some is that MSM types are hostile to the blogosphere because they aren't used to getting criticized up there in their comfortable perches, and/or they resent losing their oligopoly on published opinionating.

That may well be true for some MSM folk (though not for Jonathan Chait), but Kevin Drum probably got closer to the more general truth in Political Animal yesterday:

This isn't really apropos of much of anything, but it was prompted by the conversation on a variety of blogs today about why so many mainstream reporters fear and loathe the blogosphere. It was, for my taste, a wee bit disingenuous: bloggers could probably do themselves a favor by stepping back once in a while and trying to understand the impact of being on the receiving end of a hundred furious blog posts, a thousand livid comments, and five thousand enraged emails telling you in very personal terms why you're a corrupt, sniveling, lying sycophant merely because you said something nice about Joe Lieberman or opposed net neutrality or opined that Harry Reid was wrong about the war. It's really not the same thing as mere "blunt criticism."

Exactly. Sure, some journalists and pundits may well be offended that the blogospheric hoipolloi aren't simply meditating on the brilliance of their columns as though internalizing the lessons of a particularly good Sunday sermon. But for the most part, their revulsion towards bloggers is often a reaction to the speed with which their utterances are met with attacks on their character, honesty and motives, not their intelligence or (supposed) credentials. And no, it's not just about blogospheric profanity or "style." As someone who is a blogger, and not really much of a pundit, but who occasionally gets this sort of treatment, I can say it's a lot easier to read that I'm a bleeping idiot, or bleeping ill-informed, than that I am (to quote one recent comment on my fine work) a "Wal-Mart fellator," or to be informed (which has happened many times) by total strangers that I spend my free time attending Georgetown Cocktail Parties and rubbing elbows with David Broder.

Having said that, I would ask, just as Kevin Drum did, whether these sort of blogospheric sins are less important than the extraordinary infusion of new voices and new viewpoints enabled by blogs. And the answer, of course, for me as well as for Kevin, is yes, by many miles.

As it happens, I'm old enough to remember what it was like in the pre-Internet days when there really wasn't any opportunity for political analysis or expression outside a very small segment of the journalistic guild. In the mid-80s, I was sorta stuck in my federal-state relations and speechwriting careers. I tried to do a lateral transfer into journalism, but was quickly informed my experience and writing ability were worthless without a journalism degree and entry-level apprenticeship. Not having the time or money to start all over, I developed the habit of writing pseudonymous letters to the editor, becoming something of a regular in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with occasional appearances in places like The New Republic and The Wall Street Journal.

It was all good clean fun, but I felt like a crank. And as I've reflected on more than one occasion since then, what I was looking for would have been perfectly and more honestly accomodated by a blog.

I am abundantly aware there are many, many people out there blogging and commenting who have more to say, and who express it better, than I did back then, or than I do today, for that matter. Many of them labor in obscurity, but some, including quite a few who are now Big Wheels in the blogosphere, started as nobodies and gained attention purely on the merits, not by climbing the greasy pole of any journalistic or political profession. You don't have to buy into the whole People-Powered Movement idea that the netroots are turning politics upside down to accept that blogs have indeed turned journalism and political discourse generally upside down. And that's unambiguously a good thing, for my money, and worth far more than all the verbal sticks and stones aimed by bloggers and commentors towards thee or me.
-- Posted at 3:25 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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